ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County police will step up efforts to identify drunken drivers after an uptick in alcohol-related arrests in 2015.
“Every day or night, officers are arresting drunk drivers during their normal course of duties,” according to County police Capt. Tom Didone of the County traffic division.
Montgomery County police arrested 3,221 people on DUI charges in 2015, Didone said.
In 2014, 3,189 people were arrested, and 3,302 people were arrested in 2013, Didone said.
These arrests apply to the County police, Gaithersburg, the County’s division of the National Capital Park Police and Chevy Chase Village jurisdictions, said Officer Rick Goodale, spokesperson for the County police.
He said there will be more emphasis on “spending more time looking” for these drivers.
Didone said the department looks at previous data including where the most arrests occurred.
He said areas such as Route-355 and the Silver Spring and Bethesda corridor are hot spots.
The County’s Alcohol Holiday Task Force actively looks for drunken drivers during the holidays, spokesperson Capt. Paul Starks said.
The task force is made up of officers from six police departments, the sheriff’s department, Gaithersburg police, the County’s division of the National Capital Park Police Department and state police.
The task force began Nov. 15 and worked until Jan. 9.
He said officers not on the task force also look for those who may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Starks said when people are pulled over, they perform three standardized tests for the officer to determine if the person is sober.
The first test is the walk-and-turn test, the second is the stand-on-one-leg test and the third is the horizontal gaze test.
Fourth District Officer Noah Leotta died on Dec. 10 after Olney resident Luis Reluzco, 47, struck Leotta during a traffic stop at the intersection of Rockville Pike and Edmonston Drive on Dec. 3.
Reluzco has not been charged because police were waiting for his blood toxicology results as of Jan.13, said Cpl. Rebecca Innocenti, a spokesperson for the department.
Sgt. S.A. Flynn, with the department’s Alcohol Enforcement Unit, said she has been hit by a drunken driver and had other close calls.
“It’s something we go to work and think about every day,” said Flynn.
In 2002, Flynn, pregnant at the time, was rear-ended by a drunken driver while she was in her patrol car on Rockville Pike.
Flynn and another officer were nearly hit by a driver under the influence of drugs and alcohol during a routine traffic stop on Wayne Avenue at Dale Avenue two years ago.
Flynn said she was bracing herself for the car to hit her patrol car, but the driver swerved to the left lane at the “very last minute,” Flynn said.
“His car kept coming and coming,” Flynn said.
She said these incidents do not scare her or make her hesitant to perform her job.
“It makes me more committed to doing my job,” Flynn said.
A drunken-driving accident in Frederick resulted in the death of the driver, and the officer was out of work for almost a year in 2015, Flynn said.
She said that in 2011 an officer was hit head-on while driving to work in Germantown and survived the accident.
As County police officers work to take drunken drivers off the road, a bill that holds businesses liable for those who are visibly intoxicated, leave the establishment and cause injury to someone will be reintroduced this legislative session.
State Del. Kathleen Dumais is reintroducing a Dram Shop bill that can hold establishments civilly liable if a visibly intoxicated patron leaves the establishment and injures someone.
“I would be in support of it for sure,” said Zachary Campbell, a manager for Limerick’s Pub.
He said bartenders take classes taught by the County’s Department of Liquor Control to be certified and learn the signs of intoxication.
Campbell said signs of visible intoxication include slurred words, changes in behavior and the pace at which someone drinks.
Campbell said it is not uncommon to cut people off.
He said when patrons are cut off, an Uber or taxi is called to make sure that they arrive home safely.